Bamboo Backpackers should be your first stop when you get to Fiji. With cheap dorms, reasonably priced private rooms and free airport transfers, it’s a great place to find your feet before heading to the other islands. There’s a friendly crowd, delicious food (we can recommend the Pho!) and cheap beer. What more could you want?
After a good night's sleep, get the local bus (which promises WiFi but no windows) into central Nadi. Visit the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple - the largest Hindu temple in the Southern hemisphere! It's one of the very few places where you can see traditional Dravidian architecture outside of India and is absolutely breathtaking. Dress modestly and remove your shoes, but don't worry if you have forgotten to cover up - they'll lend you a sarong at the gate.
Jump on the super convenient Yasawa Flyer, a ferry that runs up and down the Yasawa and Mamanuca islands once a day, and sail to your first island paradise! It's by far our favourite island in the Mamanucas, Bounty Island is a true paradise. You can drink the tap water, take a hot shower and rent water sports equipment for free. The staff are friendly and welcoming. You’ll be serenaded on arrival, departure and at every meal with traditional Fijian folk songs as well as a few modern covers.
If you're visiting between August and October, you might be lucky enough to help out with Bounty Island's turtle sanctuary! Turtles are protected under Fijian law, making it illegal to handle them in the wild but as Bounty Island runs a conservation project, you can help feed the gorgeous baby turtles and give them a good scrub with a toothbrush to remove algae.
Take advantage of the free activities at Bounty Island. Borrow a kayak or paddleboard and circumnavigate the island - it only takes about 30 minutes! You can also borrow snorkels, masks and fins to explore the beautiful coral just off of the beach. Get involved in beach volleyball, Fijian language lessons and try your hand at making jewellery from coconuts.
Wave goodbye to your new friends and jump back on the Yasawa Flyer. Disembark at the Naqalia stop (the same stop as Barefoot Kuata). Naqalia is more of a homestay than a resort and you’re welcomed as one of the family. The private bures are easy on the budget and there is a small dorm available, with cold water showers and clean toilets. You can refill your water bottles from the tap in the bar and the beer is cheap too! There are no activities on Sunday, except a trip to the local church where you can witness the astounding local choir sing their hearts out. Meals are eaten as a family, so don’t be late!
Ask Aku, head of the family, to take you out on the boat for a fishing trip. There are plenty of secret spots to fish around the island, and you're sure to catch something tasty! Take your catch back to the kitchen and they'll cook up a feast for you and the other guests!
While you're at Naqalia, you will probably be invited to join a kava ceremony one evening. This is one of the best places to try the mildy narcotic, but completely legal, drink. You're in safe hands with Aku and his family, and they'll tell you all about the cultural importance of the mouth-tingling tonic.
Beware that Fijians can sit drinking kava all night long, but they won't expect you to keep up with them. Once you've had your fill, which may be after just one or two cups if it's not your thing, just say so and you won't be forced to drink any more. Just sit back and listen to the stories while the ceremony goes on.
Climb Vatu Sawalo
The rocky peak of Vatu Sawalo dominates the skyline of Waya Leilei Island, and a tough hike will reward you with incredible views of the Mamanuca and Yasawa Island chains.
There are well trodden paths from Waya Leilei Resort and Naqalia Lodge, but you will need to do some free rock climbing to get right to the top. You can also get a boat from Kuata Island for about 25fjd per person and a guide will lead you up the old track, which is shorter but a lot steeper. We took the old track (unaware that there was an easier option) with a very knowledgeable Aussie called Peter (thanks for the bird watching lessons!) and a lovely guide named Ben, who took us to his house for a huge mug of sweet Fijian tea and fresh coconuts afterwards.
Barefoot Manta Island
It'll be a sad day when you say goodbye to everyone at Naqalia and leave your new Fijian family behind. But it's time to hop back on the Yasawa Flyer and head to Barefoot Manta Island, much further away from the mainland. Here, you’ll find another chilled out paradise, but with the added bonus that spectacular manta rays are known to gather in the channel just off the beach. Well suited to backpackers, with social travellers and extremely welcoming staff, this place has all the luxuries of a beach resort but will be kind to your budget. Book a dorm on the beach and you'll wake up to the sun rising up right outside your dorm. Sure, the sun sets outside of the pricier luxury bures, but this beach is still only a minute’s walk from the bar. Even if you miss the manta rays, you’re sure to leave with good memories.
Manta rays are unpredictable, and you never know when they're going to decide to swim up the nearby channel for a feed. Not to worry though, because Barefoot Manta has a dedicated team, poised for action as soon as they appear. You can sit back and relax on the beach, but grab your fins, snorkel and mask and jump on the boat as soon as the drums sound!
Don't worry if the mantas didn't make an appearance yesterday, they might come today! There's plenty to keep you occupied on Barefoot Manta while you wait. Why not try your hand at coconut bowling or hermit crab racing?
Today is your last chance to swim with those gentle giants - the manta rays - so don't leave the beach! If you're not the type to enjoy sunbathing and reading your book, join in with the volleyball or touch rugby. There's always a game going on somewhere!
If there's something to celebrate, you might be able to lend a hand in cooking a lovo. This traditional underground oven style of cooking is usually reserved for celebrations such as weddings and birthdays.
Back to the Bamboo Backpackers
Jump on the Yasawa Flyer and sail back to the main port. Make the most of your last evening in paradise, savour that last bottle of Fiji Gold and prepare for your return home!